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A dummy turns real? Whatever...
The Right Cause Party under billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov was supposedly Russia’s answer to a democratic opposition. But September 2011 saw Prokhorov come out all guns blazing against the Kremlin after getting voted out as the leader of the Right Cause. Is this the start of a true opposition bench in Russian politics? Now, now, did you already fall for it?

A drama unfolds. With the election season just knocking on the doors, Russian political czars are busy scripting a new high-voltage political drama – as usual. The scene on September 15, 2011 at Mikhail Prokhorov’s opposition party campaign was no less than a Hollywood movie plot – predictable & non-seminal. Prokhorov (third richest in Russia, as per Forbes’ ranking) was ousted as the leader of his own party; in turn, he accused the Kremlin of disrupting his budding political career (“I am not willing to take part in this farce,” he announced in a press conference, beseeching his party men to “leave this puppet Kremlin party”). He blamed the Kremlin of deliberately deploying doubles in places of his delegates to damage his political image.

If you’re convinced that this is the start of an enstrengthened opposition in Russia – as are most of the global media, from New York Times to Washington Post – then allow us to mention, Ashton or no Ashton, you’ve just been punk’d. The entire sequence of this irascible plot has been literally drafted by Kremlin. One would have to go a few years back to understand the reason for this current well choreographed outburst by Prokhorov.

In January, 2007, French police arrested the 6ft 8in tall Mikhail Prokhorov and a few young women on charges of prostitution from a an upmarket hotel at the ski resort Courchevel. Surprisingly, he was released without charge after a few days – his ‘power’ connections were rumoured then too. In early 2010, Putin publicly criticised Prokhorov (and other super rich businessmen in Russia) for not investing enough in the energy sector. Prokhorov publicly accepted that Putin’s criticism was justified. In May 2011, Prokhorov announced that he intended leading the Right Cause party against the Kremlin with a “goal to take second place in the parliamentary elections this year.” Thankfully, well tanned political commentators saw right through the farce, revealing that the party was a Kremlin sideshow in progress.

That news leak was a big negative hit for Putin, as he had hoped that this ‘opposition’ party could be controlled by the Kremlin without letting the outside world know. Still, Prokhorov kept insisting that there was nothing of this sort and the Right Cause was appropriately independent. In August this year, Prokhorov even claimed that he could do a good job as the prime minister. On September 2, 2011 (on Facebook), Prokhorov further wrote, “If [my] party is a runner-up in the elections, we will nominate our candidate for president. I do not rule out my own candidacy.” A handful of days later, law enforcement officers appropriately raided a bank owned by Prokhorov, apparently undertook some investigations – and did absolutely nothing after that. This well-timed ‘raid’ was perchance intended to promote the perception that the government was becoming anti-Prokhorov.
Within a few days of the raid, Prokhorov released a party manifesto calling the Kremlin “hostile to its own people,” and that he intended “to put an end to [Putin’s] United Russia’s monopoly in the State Duma.” For added effect, in the second week of September, he threw out a few top functionaries from the Right Cause, claiming the Kremlin was trying to use them to get him thrown out of his own party. Well, even that didn’t cut any ice with observers. Putin finally realized that the world was not buying the sham of the Right Cause.

Thus, on cue, on September 15, the same Prokhorov who had described the Right Cause just a week back as a party that stood for true democracy, amusingly changed his stand to accuse his own party of being a “pro-Kremlin puppet project,” and the Russian party system as being a fraud engineered by a “puppet master”, namely, Vladislav Surkov. On September 15, he tweeted, “I will do everything to get the puppeteer Surkov to resign.” For the uninitiated, Vladislav Surkov is the president’s first deputy chief of staff and is believed to be Kremlin’s chief propagandist and the brain behind the theory of “sovereign democracy”.

So does Prokhorov really mean whatever he’s blurting out? Of course not! From Mikhail Khodorkovsky (one-time Russian billionaire, now serving a life sentence till 2019, post his conviction on charges of fraud just a few days after he had had a clash with then-president Putin) to Boris Berezovsky (another Russian millionaire – currently in UK on political asylum – who faced criminal charges after he clashed with Putin in the year 2000), there is no known history of any of the elite class surviving post a clash with Putin.

The billionaire Prokhorov has too much to lose; and obviously will not risk his business empire simply to take potshots at Putin; unless, of course, Putin himself has engineered the ramshackle show. We even expect Prokhorov to be arrested any day (and then released), just to add validity to his ‘independent’ candidacy. Lilia Shevtsova, a researcher at Moscow Carnegie Center, talking to LA Times, puts it the best, “[Prokhorov] has been chosen by the Kremlin to play the role of a clown to make the election period amusing.” Well, what a joke!


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